There’s something special happening over in Downtown’s City West neighborhood. In 2011, bar owner Rio Hackford opened up Monty Bar, a perfect example of what a bar restoration should be. Away from the heart of Downtown, Monty Bar exists on the fringe of the city, and its unassuming exterior only adds to the awe once you walk inside. A cavernous, hangar-like room greets you on entrance. Reminiscent of one of San Francisco’s glorious, and meticulously vintage dance halls, Monty Bar looks every part the gothic-western-bordello you’ve never been to.
Built in 1910, the first strip bar in Los Angeles, the building has certainly seen its share of history, grit, and hard times. “Back in the midnineties, we came here to play pool. It was scary, totally insane back then. There were guys making book in the corner. . . it was completely down and dirty,” Rio recalls. “Cops come in here now and high-five us.” This is hardly Rio’s first dance though, he has two bars in New Orleans, another up in San Francisco. “We’ve been open for four years, and because of where we’re at, we’ve been able to do what we want to do here. It’s been a slow build. We like under-the-radar joints, to have a bar we’d like to drink in, the progression has been awesome,” Rio explains. “We kept that New Orleans mindset — a bar is a bar, not a Disneyland ride.”
The selection of beers is just right, a perfect blend of craft and macro, the macro specifically kept on tap to honor the previous generations of regulars who still come by for a beer, albeit without the bookmaking and so many switchblades. The pool tables are gone, but the cocktails are premium in a more traditional manner as well, “We don’t have essences of foam, mixology-type thing, but you can get a fresh juice drink quickly. We have a great selection of beer and you can get a great cocktail without waiting 45 minutes to get it. There’s no BS here.” Explore the house cocktails, or play it safe and order the top notch Manhattan. Nothing here disappoints.
On the same block as the newly minted Teragram Ballroom, Monty Bar and its neighbors are making this strip perhaps the coolest in all of LA. With skate shop ThrashGnar and art gallery Lethal Amounts next door, exciting stuff is happening here on the block. “Everyone has been so cool, we’re all in cahoots,” Corey Allen, the bar’s manager says. In fact, Lethal Amounts has been taking over DJ sets, bringing a mid-eighties Deathrock scene on Fridays, and a Glam/New Wave set on Saturdays. Music scenes so integral to LA underground music scene, but that you don’t see now anywhere in LA, especially with the legendary special guest DJs they procure for either night. “It’s got the vibe of the old Scream (club) from the mid-eighties,” Rio says. “It’s gay, it’s straight. . . it’s a total mish-mash of bar. It welcomes everybody. That’s what you want.”
The Monty has its regulars, and its cool scenesters, but there’s still plenty of room and always a cool vibe. Rio laughs, “There’s not gonna be a line around the block, but there’s gonna be some cool peeps here.”